Words of Radiance: When Right Makes Might … Literally

What would happen if concepts could take near-tangible form and bond with people to lend chosen individuals extra strength and skill? That is exactly what happens in the fantasy world Sanderson weaves for The Stormlight Archives. Spren are the visible representations of concepts like fear, pain, and glory. (In Narnia, Dryads and Naiads are the spirits of trees and water that can take physical form. Spren are similar, but represent intangibles instead of elements of nature.)

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There’s an old saying that says, “Might makes right.” The saying indicates that the people with power make the rules and therefore whatever they do is categorized as right. The Bible, on the other hand, tells us that there are absolute truths that indicate what is right and what is wrong, and true strength is the ability to use self-control and avoid what is wrong.

He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city. —Proverbs 16:32

This Bible verse aligns more closely with a different saying which declares, “Right makes might.”

In Words of Radiance, it becomes clear that the concept of “right makes might” is a very literal reality for Kaladin, one of the main characters. He lives in a world that seems devoid of honor (see my review of The Way of Kings) but his desire to protect drives him to maintain a level of integrity in his own life. This behavior attracts a honor spren–a type of spren lost even to legend–named Syl. As Kaladin and Syl bond, the partnership lends her intelligence while gradually granting him the abilities of a Windrunner. His fighting skills are unprecedented, he seems almost untouchable when he throws himself into harms way, and when he is injured he heals at an astonishing speed. However, there’s a catch that Kaladin is unaware of. If he chooses to make dishonorable decisions, he will sever his bond with Syl and loose the abilities she lends him.

I found this direct correlation to strength and honor fascinating. I rarely think of morality in the context of power. You do the right thing because it’s right, not because you get something from it. But the truth is, adhering to the right path set by the Lord does lend a certain strength.

Obviously, doing the right thing in the real world doesn’t usually give us powers like healing quickly or being able to beat an army single-handed. As often is the case with fiction, the abilities Kaladin gains by behaving honorable point to a much subtler reality in the real world. How does right make might in our lives?

In Words of Radiance, Kaladin struggles and almost fails because he must behave with honor by his own strength. Thankfully for us, the power offered by doing what is right is not granted to us based on our own moral ability. We would fail miserably!

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. —John 15:5

Instead, Jesus Christ offers to cover our inability with his perfection so that we can serve Him.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. —Isaiah 61:10

I’m looking forward to seeing how Kaladin and Syl’s partnership continues!

What examples of “right makes might” have you seen in your life? What books do you think portray the power of doing the right thing?

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